OSWEGO — Labette County commissioners will return to 2021 budget work Tuesday after signing off on a handful of budgets Monday.

The commission’s overall goal is to reduce spending by 1% countywide and not increase the county’s mill levy, which is 61.561 mills. To accomplish this, commissioners asked each department to budget for a 1% reduction in spending. Kansas counties are under a tax lid law that restricts spending increases above the consumer price index without a public vote.

A mill is a $1 tax for every $1,000 in assessed value. For a home valued at $60,000, taxes to support county operations would be $424.77 (60,000 times .115 — the assessment rate for residential property — times 61.561 and divided by 1,000).

Commissioners reviewed the three largest budgets on Monday: Public Works, the sheriff’s office and the county jail. They also reviewed their own budget, senior services, district court and abandoned cemeteries. Commissioners signed off on most of the budgets and handed them off to the clerk’s office, whose staff assembles the completed budget document.

Sandy Krider, Public Works director, offered a budget reflecting 3.57% less in spending. The current year budget is $4,715,910. The proposed 2021 budget is $4,547,471, or $168,439 less. Commissioners Doug Allen and Lonie Addis signed the budget document, though Addis was concerned about the reduced spending and its potential impact on projects. Commissioner Fred Vail left the meeting earlier and didn’t review the Public Works budget, but he did review several other budgets.

Public Works, which does road work, bridge work, grades roads and mows ditches, among other duties, is down six employees and is in the process of hiring for two positions. The county is under a hiring freeze because of the pandemic, though several departments were allowed to fill a limited number of vacancies.

Krider told commissioners the steel truss bridge on 8000 Road over Pumpkin Creek will be replaced in 2021 using money set aside in the special bridge reserve fund. 

And collections in the city/county highway fund may not be as low as commissioners first thought, Krider said. This money comes from the state and is based on fuel sales. Commissioners were concerned that the money would be less because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restricted travel that many Kansans endured in recent months. Krider said the county would receive $114,176 less than last year and estimates for this year are only down about $33,000. The fuels tax brings in about $700,000 a year to the county.

Krider said the final payment on the purchase of four road graders will be made in 2022. A couple of other graders may need to be replaced in the future, but Krider said the more urgent need is trucks and mowers.

She told commissioners that the county will receive about $90,000 from the insurance company for hail and wind damage claim for the barn and salt shed in Oswego from this month’s storm. The shed was destroyed and the barn damaged. Krider proposed storing the salt in the same structure as county equipment and add a vapor barrier to keep the salt from damaging vehicles elsewhere in the building. She also wants to inquire about erecting a metal frame building rather than a wood frame structure.

Krider also presented the abandoned cemetery budget, which reflects a 0.56% reduction in spending to $118,517 compared to $119,189 this year. Commissioners didn’t have an issue with the less than 1% reduction in this budget as it’s under Krider’s control and her larger budget reflected a 3.57% reduction in spending.

Commissioners also signed off on their 2021 budget at $149,470, reflecting a 1% spending cut. It was going to be 0.9% less until Addis trimmed meals and lodging by $1,000 to $4,000 at Allen’s urging.

Commissioners also signed off on the senior services budget, which is generated by a state-mandated levy of a half of a mill. A committee determines the distribution of the money to county senior centers and the Southeast Kansas Area Agency on Aging, and the commission accepted that: $7,234 to Altamont; $6,000 to Chetopa; $6,237 to Edna; $4,750 to Mound Valley; $6,000 to Oswego; $6,237 to Parsons; and $31,317 to the state agency.

Commissioners met with Mac Young, court administrator for the 11th Judicial District, to discuss the Labette County District Court budget. The court operates in Parsons at the Labette County Judicial Center in Parsons and in Oswego on the third floor of the courthouse.

Young presented a budget reflecting about $2,000 more in spending for 2021, or $274,350. This year’s budget was $272,450.

Commissioners have been upset with the district’s chief judge, Oliver Kent Lynch, over moving Judge Fred W. Johnson from Parsons to Oswego earlier this year without consulting the commission or considering the impact of doubling the security detail, one in Parsons and one in Oswego, on the county taxpayers. The pandemic ended in-person hearings for a couple of months so the impact wasn’t as severe and Sheriff Darren Eichinger made other adjustments to limit the impact on his court security budget.

Commissioner Allen attempted to contact Judge Lynch to ask about the move and Lynch took seven weeks to respond. Allen said Lynch was aware of the impact on the county but didn’t change his decision. Court employees and judges are state employees and paid by the state. Operations of district court outside of salaries are paid by county taxpayers.

“From our point of view, that shows a complete disregard for our responsibilities,” Allen said of Lynch’s response.

Commissioner Vail said that’s also a disregard for taxpayer money.

“That’s like sin,” Vail said.

Allen wanted the court’s budget to reflect the 1% spending cut as well. He said a court request for additional spending wouldn’t get a sympathetic ear from the commission. Young said whatever figure the commission approves he would plug into his spreadsheet and send it on.

Commissioners also agreed previously to pay the four contract indigent defense attorneys $100 more each month, or $2,600 each, which totals $124,800 a year.

Commissioners also signed off on the sheriff’s office budget of $1,443,577 after discussion. This reflects an increase in spending over this year’s budget of about $1.38 million. Law enforcement is exempt from the tax lid restrictions, though commissioners still want the overall budget to be reduced. The 2021 jail budget, $1,276,655, signed off on reflects additional spending because of the hiring of another jailer as approved by the commission.

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